Since the first day that the Intonation line-up was announced, I had been hyping up Jon Brion's appearance to everyone I knew. I loved all of the hip-hop on the bill, and putting grime heroes Lady Sovereign and The Streets on the same night was a nice touch, but c'mon...Jon Brion!?! The genius producer who's worked with everyone from Robyn Hitchcock to Kanye West? The guy who has done all those great scores for films like Eternal Sunshine and Punch Drunk Love? In Chicago? This guy doesn't tour. He plays out at this small club in L.A. a lot, taking requests and belting out Billy Joel covers, but that's about the only place you'll see him outside of the recording studio. It's a unique booking like this that makes festival-going worthwhile. For the first time during the festival, I closely watched the time and made a point to get to the corresponding stage a few minutes before Brion’s scheduled start. As luck would have it, this was one of the few Intonation performances that started noticeably later than scheduled. As a solo performer, seemingly without any roadies or techies, it took Brion a bit longer than most to get all of his instruments in tune and his gadgets in place. I’m sure a few people were a bit miffed about the wait, but as the set unfolded it became quite clear why all of the set-up was necessary. For much of the set Brion was a one-man band, jumping from instrument to instrument (guitars, drums and keys), looping each individual part and then jamming live with his freshly recorded backing tracks. During these sessions Brion looked like a kid in a candy store, rushing back and forth to sample everything he could get his hands on. Brion’s exuberant energy was infectious and the crowd went wild every time he returned to the front of the stage to rip into another multi-tracked guitar solo. The rest of the set was a bit more traditional, with Brion performing some amazing covers solo on guitar. In true Largo-style, he was also joined by a couple of friends in the process. Straight out of left field came Benmont Tench, longtime keyboard player for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Not sure how or where Brion managed to find Tench, but on a few tracks he added some nice metallic accompaniment on the toy piano. Later Brion was joined by a more obvious guest, Glenn Kotche, drummer for hometown heroes Wilco. Just as it had engaged the crowd, Brion’s contagious bliss kept his guests smiling the whole time as they tore into an amazing rendition of The Beatles’ “Baby You’re A Rich Man,” and later closed out the night with The Kink’s “Waterloo Sunset” as dusk loomed in Chicago. Other cover highlights from the night included “This Will Be Our Year” by The Zombies, Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” and “Why Do You Do This To Yourself,” an obscure Evan Dando solo favorite of mine co-penned by Brion.
Bloc Party rocked the masses and Rhymefest lead the hip-hop pack, but in my book Brion’s set was by far the most memorable performance at Intonation 2006. Overall, I’d have to say this year’s Intonation was a success, despite the notorious falling out with nationwide cult trendsetter Pitchfork, which undoubtedly led to the slightly lower attendance figures. By far, the strength in this year’s fest was its diverse booking of artists that combined rock with hip-hop, pop with experimental and new with old. If Intonation can keep this up, it should be around for quite some time. Of course, it will be interesting to see if the market can sustain three major festivals every summer, but I think Chicago can do it. As Brion said at the close of his performance, “Appreciate your city. It’s one of the last few unique ones left.”